A fellow COETAIL-er last week asked me if I loved the IB. My response has a lot to do with the pattern I see emerge in my blog posts. Both the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP), which I am most familiar with, already provide standards and practices that schools need to comply with to become authorized.

How schools meet those standards is entirely up to each individual school and its leadership team (a massive human-centered design challenge!). Through the self-study in the year before the evaluation, the school argues and provides evidence on how well it’s doing.

For instance, Standard C3.2 reads: teaching and learning engage students as inquirers and thinkers. How might one do that?

Habits of Mind

Art Costa came to the first school where I ever worked. The goal was to introduce habits of mind as dispositions that teachers could actively teach, coach, assess (informally) and report on. Things like “responding with wonderment and awe”, “finding humor”, and “striving for accuracy”. All of these habits, together with metacognition (what Costa calls ‘the queen of the habits of mind”), give students and teachers a tangible framework for students to reflect on how they think and learn.

Habits of Mind chart from Habits of Mind Institute.

Approaches to Learning

The ATLs documents provided by the IB are more extensive and detailed. Possibly, for this reason, they can be difficult to implement effectively. Schools are also encouraged to remix them to fit their own context. There are 10 different clusters, but it’s the actual skill within them that bring the ATLs to life. Some of the relevant ones for this example might include:

In my last post, I shared a unit that included students in the planning of individual unit questions. The central Approach to Learning of that unit, given that students were working independently for a long period of time, was “help others to succeed”. We frequently paused for mindfulness, to practice asking for help and actively helping each other make progress.

Do you have any questions?

Asking good questions is an essential skill for good teachers. The question in this heading is a terrible example of a question to ask. Well-intentioned, but ill-designed. I forget where I picked it up, but “What can I clarify?” is much more inviting. Try it! I also like the way the question is phrased: what can I clarify, instead of something that sounds like “what didn’t you understand”. I also like how it invites students to ask for clarification on behalf of one or more of their peers.

Fullan argues that open-ended questions help establish relationships and model the types of questions the teacher might ask hiimself/herself when learning. Knight’s Effective Questioning lists strategies for doing that, which include Mary Rowe’s “Wait Time” concept, coined in 1972, and asking students to explain their answer, which is what Costa incorporates in the “metacognition” habit of mind.

Let me guess: the IB does it better?

Sure does. Well, I think so, anyway.

Introducing the IB command terms. These are verbs that begin a request to the student that can, in as little as one word, indicate the level of detail and the type of thinking required. Let’s take this simple example.

What do mitochondria do?

If you remember a bit of Biology from high school, maybe you proudly shouted “they’re the powerhouse of the cell!” out loud. They earn that title because they produce (most) of the energy currency used in cells, called ATP. Here are the versions of the same question, courtesy of the IB command terms.

Each command term has a descriptor, which helps unpack their meaning as well (pages 166-167 here)

So here you can see how the command terms allow for teachers to ask not only about the content (the function of mitochondria) but to ask for specific types and levels of thinking. The power of the command terms is enhanced when students are presented with content (such as a graph from a scientific paper) and then asked to produce a list of questions using a list of command terms — this flips the script as students are asked to come with up questions rather than answers. The exercise above, answering different types of questions on the same content, is another routine that I like to use with groups of students. When Jason dropped this pearl at a faculty meeting in 2007, I took it very literally.

We often ask students to answer questions, but we seldom have them make the questions.” – Jason Wozniak, PhD.

This resource is even more meaningful because these command terms are associated with assessment criteria in grades 6-12. This means that the only thing tests, for instance, are doing is changing the format of students’ responses, but the type of thinking and the way it is elicited is the same.


This most wonderful not-a-TED-Talk outlines Brown’s research on shame, guilt, and vulnerability.

She suggests that vulnerability, clarity of values, trust, and rising skills are the four pillars of courage that should be nurtured in the classroom.

Like with social entrepreneurship, I feel that empathy and vulnerability are best taught by giving students the opportunity to recognize it in others. Whenever I show students a video of someone sharing their work, I ask them to split their observations between the content and the (Learner Profile) traits the speaker is displaying. In IB workshops, I model this exercise with this other wonderful talk by Paul Nicklen.

Students are quick to point out how much he cares: for the environment, for the Inuit he grew up with, for the animals he works with. They also point out his courage (which I prefer to ‘risk-taking’ in the Learner Profile language). Nicklen took several calculated risks diving with leopard seals and pitching stories to Nat Geo that were a long shot. When speaking about both of these traits, I will start using the concept of vulnerability as a strength as highlighted by Brown.

The biggest take-away from her talk for me was the notion of a shame-resilient classroom. I’ve worked with students in using positive self-talk (“the brain listens to the orders you give to it”, my Hum Phys professor used to say). I would usually do this as a response to observing negative self-talk around achievement or potential. However, it never occurred to me that the type of negative self-talk could be different: “I’m stupid” versus “I did a stupid thing”. I want to keep an ear out for that nuanced difference.

2 thoughts on “Doyouhaveanyquestions?No?Good,movingon…

  1. So much great stuff all in one place, Thanks Luiz! Love the Habits of the Mind chart, super great when constantly working with students on learning about they HOW they learn best and a great visual to support those lessons. With the asking questions… pushing into so many courses has allowed me to see numerous ways teachers ask questions- do you think the statement of “ask me a question” vs. all the other ways of asking students if they have questions can be overused? Or even going further with having the students start to pick up on that language to further the questioning and dialogue between students. The IB program is certainly challenging and I know not all students within the SEN program go into it or meet it with success, does your school have a modified program or alternative to it- being an “IB School”? We are PYP and IB, but not MYP in the middle, do you see more value in aligning all 3? I wonder sometimes about the middle school years skipping it. Love Bene Brown and really hope that all educators provide and grow the shame resilient classroom. Thanks!!

    • Oh, yes, I would miss terribly the MYP, and I am sure students do, too.
      I’ve worked at two schools for two years in the situation you described: they skip the MYP. When students started the DP in Grade 11, they had zero contact with the key elements of the programme: learner profile, ATLs, for instance. It’s not that teachers weren’t using collaborative tools and research skills, but it wasn’t by design and it wasn’t explicit. BIg difference.

      I suppose any strategy can be overused. I’m not sure how I feel about “Ask me a question”. It’s great because it doesn’t incorporate the notion students ‘don’t get it’. What I notice is the purpose. What’s the ‘purpose’ of having students ask a question. In the teacher’s mind, it’s clear that it’s for clarification purposes. Is that clear for the students as well?

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post! If I had more time, I would have made it shorter.

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